an electric drain snake being used in a bathroom sink drain

Drain Snake

Originally contributed by Jeff Butler • last updated 12/16/2020

Few people enjoy a clogged drain (except maybe your local plumber), but when you’ve got backed up pipes, and your plunger isn’t doing the trick, you may need to grab yourself a drain snake.


The term drain snake (sometimes called a plumbers snake or a toilet snake) typically refers to an auger tool that is used to unclog drains. The device usually consists of a fairly long, sturdy coil of metal that is thin and flexible enough to “snake” its way through various drain parts, including the P trap. The coil is commonly attached to a handle and reel at one end so it can be extended and retracted. While, the other end has hooks or blades for clearing blockages in the drain pipes. Drain snakes come in many sizes and variations, including electric and manual, for tackling different plumbing challenges.

How To Snake A Drain

If you’ve tried drain cleaner and a plunger to unclog those pipes but you’ve still got water backing up, you’re probably going to need a drain snake to dislodge that blockage:

  • To start with, make sure you’ve got the right drain snake. There are several variations, including scratch-free toilet snakes, electric drain snakes, and larger sewer drains snakes.
  • Most drain snakes can simply be extended into the drain opening by winding out the reel (either manually or electrically). The coil may need to be twisted and turned to fit around corners and P traps if necessary. After the blockage has been cleared, the coil can be retracted back onto the reel.